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Saturday, August 24, 2002

No Bush Doubletalk on W.S.S.D. -- He Doesn't Even Care Enough to Comment

The media is finally beginning to trumpet the call: Bush will be the only major leader absent from this global conference on poverty, sustainable development and business practices, and the environment. This is hardly shocking because the Bush administration in particular, and the United States in general, has some of the least credibility on these issues in the world. Bush's absence makes a conference that many environmental and social organizations already thought was doomed to be little more than "lip service" a certain dud. For if the United States continues to block and buck global attempts at setting and implementing humane and environmental reforms of the transnational capitalist system, then such reforms (already in the guise of compromise) become virtually meaningless and unimplementable on a wide scale.

As I posted on the 22nd , Bush's absence comes the very week when his administration has signed off on yet another neo-liberal deregulation of a major industry -- this time it's timber. Not only has Bush, in typical fashion, allowed the industry to virtually write the governmental policy concerning the logging of U.S. forests, but he has used the issue of wildfires to promote a "healthy forests plan" that amounts to an undermining of the Environmental Protection Act. In one fell swoop of the pen, the new policy sets back and makes void environmental accords that have been painstakingly acheived over the last thirty years and bars civillians and organizations from their legal right to challenge the timber industry and the governmental policy that backs it in court.

As I wrote, the cooptation of a national tragedy by the Bush administration, one that the administration has not only mismanaged but helped to create (in as much as the horrible wildfires are more directly relatable to the drought caused by the industrial heating of the planet that Bush denies and so supports) is typical of how Bush does business and it is the very same strategy that was used post-9/11 to cement a powerful hegemony and further administration aims in a manner that would have been otherwise unthinkable.

So, this is the week of unbelievable Bushspeak. He promotes a common-sense plan for domestic environmental health by rolling back the one strong environmental accord the U.S. does have, he bars environmentalists from any legal recourse in doing so, and he proudly hands the national forest areas over to be "sensibly managed" by the very industry that has the most to gain via practices of ecological mismanagement and a terrible history of doing just this. But then, for an encore, while continuing his nonsense rhetoric of being tough on corporate crooks, he drums up money and support at an elite gala for another corporate criminal, Republican candidate for Governor Bill Simon.

If the consequences of such blather weren't so terrbily threatening and destructive, I'd say that it's time to give Bush his own Comedy Central primetime slot. His recent round of press shots and television appearances being simply laughable and absurd. Sadly, however, there really is nothing funny about shrugging off world poverty and disease, ignoring the destruction of local cultures and traditions in the name of a buck, and furthering an insane policy of unchecked production and consumption that has the planet in the throws of an unprecedented cycle of extinction. In this sense, then, the current Bush lies have never been more sinister and deserving of loud and boisterous dissent.

Posted by Richard
8/24/2002 07:30:01 AM | PermaLink

Friday, August 23, 2002

W.S.S.D.: World Summit for Stifling Dissent?

The first signs of looming conflict at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg are beginning to show even before the summit opens August 26. On Wednesday, 114 former freedom fighters claimed they were teargassed in police cells after being arrested while travelling to a planned protest outside parliament this week.

In addition, 72 landless people and land activists and a journalist were arrested Wednesday as part of the South African government's crackdown on demonstrations during the summit. Those arrested include most of the Gauteng leadership of the national Landless People's Movement including LPM Gauteng Chairperson Maureen Mnisi.

The clash with police occurred when a group of about 4,000 people marched on the offices of Gauteng Premier Mbazhima Shilowa, in whose province the summit is situated, demanding an end to forced removals. The marchers wanted Shilowa to sign a memorandum of commitment to stop forced removals, and "to end the brutal campaign of terror being waged by the notorious Red Ants security company and the police against poor and landless people in the province," the LPM said in a statement.

Shilowa said the Gauteng government is aware of the plight of people in the province who reside in informal settlements or in backrooms and shacks and wish to own homes with full title deeds. He said the government had embarked on a new approach which includes incremental housing and social housing to reduce the huge housing backlog facing the province.

Police, who have drafted 8,000 reinforcements into Johannesburg to quell crime, control traffic and stifle any civil disobedience other than strictly regulated demonstrations, said demonstrations where permission had not been obtained would be strictly dealt with.

They denied they had teargassed members of the Soldiers Forum who were detained at Johannesburg Central police station.

But publicity secretary of the Soldiers Forum, Lerato Mayela, said outside the station, "You can still smell the teargas, and why have all these paramedics arrived? Some have been injured."

The Soldiers Forum is a group of ex-anti-apartheid guerrilla forces including those from Umkhonto we Sizwe which is the military wing of the ruling African National Congress, the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army and others.

The incidents come as tensions have slowly begun rising with a wide variety of groups expressing anger over a complex registration process for demonstrations during the period of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

The tough government stance is fueling tensions and creating alliances among a variety of groupings ranging from disenchanted volunteers at the summit who are protesting their day rate, landless people, workers, those protesting government's stance on HIV and women and high service charges to the poor.

Mayela said, "Freedom of expression as provided for in the constitution has been violated. This is not a true reflection of democracy, we will now demonstrate every day."

Trevor Ngwane, a leading civil rights campaigner who was arrested in May during a protest demonstrating high service charges in Soweto, said, "The South African government, is criminalizing the basic rights of freedom of expression and protest. This trend has increased markedly in recent weeks, with anti-WSSD activists facing harassment and intimidation by intelligence operatives and government security forces."

He said members of the Soldiers Forum were arrested at Park Station in Johannesburg as they sat in a designated train coach waiting to embark for Cape Town, where they intended to call attention to their unfair dismissals from the South Africa National Defence Force and the failure of the government to provide pension payments.

The trip had been sponsored by Shosholoza Main Line and its management had allocated a separate coach for the Soldier's Forum. "Despite this, the South African police prevented the train from leaving," Ngwane said.

He said when national Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi finally accepted the Soldiers Forum memorandum, he proceeded to arrest them on "trumped-up" charges of not paying fares.

Mayela said Shosholoza Main Line had been asked to lay a charge against the soldiers but had refused. The soldiers, 98 of whom are men and 16 of whom are women, have embarked on a hunger strike.

He said the soldiers had tried "every channel to protest" starting with the late defence minister Joe Modise, but instead they were charged with sedition. They have planned another protest for September.

"They feel they were unfairly dealt with, they fought in the struggle against apartheid and now they don't even get pensions?" Mayela said.

Ngwane said, "This is the most recent tactic of harassing and intimidating anti-WSSD activists, by government intelligence and security forces. Over the last several days, the National Intelligence Agency has attempted to question several such activists and, in one case, to recruit a member to spy for them.

"All of these cases are indicative of a systematic campaign to control and curtail legitimate public dissent and opposition to government policies," Ngwane said. "It is a clear sign that the South African government is afraid of an informed and active citizenry that practices real democracy."

Posted by Richard
8/23/2002 07:30:51 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Take Action

The Military's War on Animals
News programs everywhere are airing the ghastly footage of dogs dying in Al Qaeda military experiments. Sadly, these cruel experiments are not confined to Afghanistan. Each year, at least 320,000 primates, dogs, and other animals are hurt and killed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Save Greek Dogs and Cats at Risk From Mass Poisoning
In preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, which will take place in Athens, Greece, it is feared that the Greek government will conduct mass poisonings of homeless animals. Help prevent this tragedy by encouraging immediate spaying and neutering programs.

For the animals' sake, please make sure that your letters are polite.
Click here for PETA's "Guide to Letter-Writing."

These action alerts are time-sensitive and should be responded to within 48 hours if at all possible.

Posted by Richard
8/22/2002 03:15:51 PM | PermaLink

Bush Announces "Common Sense" Approach to Managing Forests: Remove Legal Protections and Log Trees Into Oblivion

Bush took off his tie today in a trip to Oregon where besides blaming the lack of affordable medical care in the United States on "worthless, junk lawsuits" by malpractice attorneys, he issued a call for his new "obvious" approach to the issue of "unhealthy" forests...removal of the Environmental Protection Act of law, the further prevention of environmental (and related) organizations from stalling forest logging through legal means, and the handing over of the nation's forests to the timber industry hook, line and sinker.

MSNBC's Jeff Cohen is to be rewarded for his shockingly candid attack on Bush's double-speak, as Cohen presented a fact-filled, clear-headed account of how nonsensical the Bush administration's new forest policy is for anyone outside of the big timber companies and the politicians that they then duly reward. Cohen also pounced on how the administration is using "wildfires" as a cover for a policy change it coveted regardless.

Opposing Cohen was a lackey from the arch-conservative, libertarian Cato Institute who provided the neo-liberal account of why this was good for timber companies AND for everyone who uses timber products. Then, he went on to attack environmentalists by wondering why it is that they think it's okay for forests to burn to the ground but not to log them?

Of course, this IS the current administration tag line that has tried to make environmentalists a scape-goat as it uses the issue of this season's wildfires as a means to change policy and hand big business the rights to regulate itself in whatever ways it so desires. This is, in fact, no different then the same stategy that Bush used with so much success following September 11, when the administration went on the offensive, bullying and frightening the population such that it could cement its political hegemony to institute whatever measures it saw fit.

The reality, as Jeff Cohen pointed out, is far different. In fact, environmentalists are not opposed to the removal of "excess" dead wood and small shrubbery on the forest floor that can amount to "fuel for wildfires." What environmentalists are opposed to is the history of the logging of old growth forests and large trees by the timber industry in the name of "salvage logging" the forest's detritus. Further, environmentalists are not eager to let trees burn, as the Cato Institute suggests, but rather they stand as the voice of reason that points out that one of the major reasons forest fires threaten society as much as they do is because 1) logging the big trees in the forests and carving the forests into subdivisions significantly weakens them and makes them prone to fire, and 2) the recent drought is the main culprit behind allowing these fires to develop into extreme blazes, not the build up of big trees. Further, as this drought has now been directly linked to big industry practices by Bush's own E.P.A. -- though Bush himself denies global warming -- mining the forests in the name of "saving" them is an outright lie and irresponsible denial of the greater problem that only compounds it further.

Finally, environmentalists have opposed logging the forests because such practices -- as was the case famously in the 1990's with the Northern Spotted Owl -- often threaten endangered species with extinction and put other species in risk of becoming endangered. With no other recourse but the courts, then, environmentalists have challenged logging campaigns by submitting that they violate the protections offered by the E.P.A.'s own Environmental Protection Act. However, perhaps as payback to the E.P.A. for undermining his neo-liberal agenda by admitting of the realities of global warming, Bush is now seeking (essentially) to do away with the act's legal power and to bar any legislative challenge of timber cutting to "save forests."

Clearly, Bush's new proposal, building upon the unfortunate "compromises" that Sen. Daschle believes that he reached with environmental and logging constituents in his own South Dakota, is one of the greatest environmental policy threats that the U.S. has ever faced -- and the media has not covered this at all. For if the Daschle compromise plan goes through and is practiced, not only are the forests (and their species) handed over to the timber industry to be exterminated, but the Environmental Protection Act is so weakened that a precedent is set that declares it irrelevant.

THIS IS A MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR STEP BACKWARD that is occuring the very week that the united nations of the Earth are meeting in Africa (without Bush) to try to surmise some way to stop the destruction of the planet.

Whether or not you believe the forests are a major issue worth fighting for, and whatever your feelings as to how to stop wildfires, I urge you to get active, and promote public dissent of this new policy. If ever there was eco-terrorism, you are staring it in the face -- and it's not the Vegan Blog...

Here's another article on the Bush proposal from the New York Times.

Posted by Richard
8/22/2002 02:59:48 PM | PermaLink

Recently Browsed...

Just a little pointer to a new blog, out of the Bay Area. Some very nice photos -- to be honest, if I could make a recommendation, I might concentrate the blog on the photos entirely. The blog's owner, Tyler, has a nice sense of shot and has some beautiful landscapes and wonderful portraits of the dogs and animals in his obvious affinity for nature and it shines through in the photography.

Posted by Richard
8/22/2002 02:53:24 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Fire Retardant Kills 20,000 Fish in Fall River, Oregon

And you thought only snakeheads got this kind of treatment...

Preliminary reports show more than 20,000 Fall River fish are dead after firefighting airplanes dumped hundreds of gallons of fire retardant in the river. And many more may have died in the nearby Deschutes River. It could be years before Fall River recovers enough to regain its reputation as one of the state's premier fly fishing streams, biologists say. The retardant killed all the fish in a six-mile stretch of the river. (08/21/02) Seattle P-I

Posted by Richard
8/21/2002 10:32:29 AM | PermaLink

Bush Expected to Promote New Forest Policy

When he speaks Thursday in Medford, President Bush is expected to push for more intensive thinning of Western forests to reduce fire danger. And he will likely support legislation streamlining environmental rules that have slowed many Western logging projects. It will plainly signal the administration's approach to forest management against the backdrop of epic wildfires burning throughout Oregon and the West. It could also incite a storm of opposition from environmental groups that argue logging only will do more harm to Western forests. (08/21/02) Oregonian

Forest-thinning plan to curb fires expected (08/21/02) San Francisco Chronicle

Bush to unveil new logging rules (08/21/02) Salem Statesman Journal

Fires serve as catalyst for new logging rules (08/21/02) Tacoma News Tribune

Forest Thinning Could Cost $1 Billion (08/21/02) Oregon Public Broadcasting

Posted by Richard
8/21/2002 10:31:13 AM | PermaLink

World Wildlife Fund Report on Sustainability of Information and Communication Technologies

Yesterday I engaged in a little NGO bashing, so today I thought I'd make up for it by pointing people in the direction of the WWF, which has just recently released what amounts to a FREE BOOK (in .pdf) investigating all the relevant data on how the development of a global ICT network -- what we're doing here -- is affecting the campaign for a planet free from oppression and the various pathologies resulting from unsustainable production / consumption cycles.

This is extremely important research and deserves a look over if you spend even a quarter of the amount of time I do online -- an hour or two a day? Heck, even if you sign on to check email once a day, this report is targeted at you! As it points out, the construction of the World Wide Web, the low and broadband infrastructures to maintain and transport it, and the new emergence of a variety of peer-to-peer Internet applications has mostly gone on without either governmental or public discussion about whether or not these new technologies are ultimately more helpful or harmful to the environmental and planetary cause.

Those that have thought about this almost always fall into one of two camps -- what the philosopher Douglas Kellner has labelled "technophobes" or "technophiles". Most greens have historically been technophobic, though branches like the Viridian movement have been on the cutting-edge of thinking about the cyborg nature of Gaia. On the other side, most tech-heads -- hacking code in dark rooms filled with amalgamations of blinking bat-cave devices -- have rarely politicized their activities beyond the quest for the freedom of information. Visionaries like the more spiritual-McLuhanite Terence McKenna or the more radically political Felix Guattari pointed to the possibilities of combining a technically-oriented world with a holistic ecology but, sadly, both died just as this movement began to take shape.

This book from the WWF hopes to present the hard facts as best they can in the hope that the debate around ICT (which is here to stay regardless) and the future of the planet (which may not be) can be moved beyond the polarized factions of love and hate to the level of an informed discussion amongst the civilian population and enlightened policy formation. Of course, for this to be possible in a world of transnational capitalism, it means pressure on the companies, organizations and states that are in charge of the industry. Thus, the WWF has also put together this list (.pdf) of the 50 key players who can influence the future in this regard.

Posted by Richard
8/21/2002 08:32:34 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Texas Tea: The Nature Conservancy's Drink of Choice

Is this what it takes to be a powerful Capitol lobby for the environment? This strategic mix of conservation and development, partnership with local economies in the name of ecological protection, and evocation of the "broad picture" was begun around the time of the last Earth Summit by the World Wildlife Fund (the other major DC player) and the Nature Conservancy. Personally, I am open to the idea that such pragmatic policies may in fact be the necessary step towards creating necessary conservation practices in ecologically sensitive and economically poor regions like around the South American rain forests. To apply such "land stewardship" models to the Texas oil fields, however, makes a mockery of the very idea at work in stewardship: that poor economies can be educated to understand the greater economic value in preserving nature than in quickly extinguishing it (as in slash and burn type practices, or oil drilling!). We all understand that environmental organizations, even large ones like WWF and TNC need money to do their work and that they fight directly against some of the most heavily funded industries in the world -- primarily the military. But drilling oil to pocket the added gains, especially in an a region with endangered species, is no way to get it. If our leading environmental lobbies can't set the future tone that enlightened practice must outweigh economic development whenever the two butt heads, then the fight for sustainability has been all but lost.
Wildlife Shares Nest With Profit
Texas City, Texas -- On a swath of grassland, tucked among belching refineries, a power plant and a busy highway, sits the last known breeding ground on Earth for one of North America's most endangered birds. There are fewer than 40 of the ungainly Attwater's prairie chickens left in the wild, half of them here at the Nature Conservancy's Texas City Prairie Preserve.

Yet when the Nature Conservancy, the world's wealthiest environmental organization, was given this 2,263-acre oil field by Mobil Oil Corp. in 1995 because of low production levels, the nonprofit organization did not shut off the petroleum spigots.

Instead, it drilled new natural gas wells, and kept cattle grazing too. The conservancy--the 10th largest charity of any kind in the United States--has reaped $5.2 million in royalties from the preserve so far.

Conservancy officials insisted that, under their careful management, neither gas lines nor cattle hoofs will harm the endangered bird. The conservancy called its prairie chicken preserve cum petroleum patch a "working" landscape, a harmonious mixture of commerce and conservation.

Long noted for its low-key, apolitical philosophy of acquiring land from willing sellers or donors, the conservancy under a new boss is forging closer ties with industries that other environmentalists often think of as the enemy.

"Maybe it's time we all took a walk in the oilman's shoes," said Niki McDaniel, spokesman for the Texas Nature Conservancy. "We believe the opportunity we have in Texas City to raise significant sums of money for conservation is one we cannot pass up, provided we are convinced we can do this drilling without harming the prairie chickens and their habitat. And we are convinced."

Others disagreed, saying that, even if there has not been a pipeline blowout, for instance, it is impossible to eliminate all risk. They said that development, including oil and gas refineries, is what devastated the bird's habitat to begin with.

"Let me be generous," said Clait E. Braun, president of the Wildlife Society, and one of the nation's leading experts on prairie chickens and other grouse. "There are no data to indicate that the Attwater's prairie chicken can coexist with oil and gas drilling. All the evidence indicates clearly that what you get is a fragmentary population straggling toward extinction."

Nearly half of the 7 million acres that the conservancy said it is protecting in the United States is now being grazed, logged, farmed, drilled or put to work in some fashion. The money earned from such activities--about $7 million this year--is less than 1% of the group's $732 million in annual revenues.

The Nature Conservancy, which turned 50 last year, was founded by New York state residents who bought a small piece of land near the Hudson River to keep it from being developed. That "bucks for acres" concept caught on, spawning other national land trusts, open space initiatives and preservation efforts. The conservancy distinguished itself by focusing on acquiring biologically significant lands.

The organization has long prided itself on collaboration, rather than confrontation. That has paid off handsomely in corporate donations and government contracts, from the world's largest oil, paper, automobile and software companies and the U.S. military.

A list of donors to its recent $1-billion Campaign for Conservation is a who's who of American industry--in the $20 million or more category are General Motors and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation of Silicon Valley fame. In the $10-million to $20-million category are mega-developer Donald Bren and American Electric Power. Chevron Texaco Corp. pitched in $5 million to $10 million, and Centex Homes, Georgia Pacific timber and paper company, Arrow Last & Livestock Inc. and Public Service Co. of New Mexico each gave between $2.5 million and $5 million. The organization also has nearly 1 million individual members, who pitched in more than $200 million last year.

In the last several years, under the leadership of John Sawhill, the organization adopted new fund-raising and conservation tactics, from licensing its name to granola bar and coffee bean companies to doing research funded by General Motors on climate change. GM could win mitigation credits for greenhouse gas emissions it causes as a result of the research, according to a footnote in the conservancy's latest tax filings.

"Land acquisition will always be an important tool, but not necessarily the major tool" of the organization, said its national spokesman, Jordan Peavey.

A key in-house architect of the changes was Steve McCormick, 50, longtime head of the California Nature Conservancy, who became executive director of the entire organization last year, after Sawhill died.

Petroleum, timber and farming royalties made up the bulk of the Texas chapter's budget in 2001--$6.5 million of $7.6 million--and the lion's share of that was gas royalties from the Texas City Prairie Preserve. But McCormick said the primary aim of the "working" landscapes is not to make money. In numerous cases, the conservancy is paying ranchers, farmers and others to use more environmentally friendly practices, he said.

McCormick conceded that there are potential biological risks to a strategy that puts industry side by side with conservation. But it is a necessary strategy, he said, because buying isolated fragments of land has not been enough to protect rare species that need whole mountain ranges or watersheds stretching hundreds of square miles.

There will never be enough money to buy such vast stretches, he said. The solution, he said, is to stitch together habitat by forging partnerships with ranchers, timber companies and other rural landowners who have often opposed environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act.

"Our desire is to work with those rural communities in ways that respect their culture, respect their economies ... but in a fashion that is compatible with preservation of endangered species," McCormick said.

"Is that risky terrain? Yes, it is, because it puts us in a position of working with extractive uses" such as oil drilling, he said. "But the alternative is to stand on the side wishing it weren't so."

Critics said that doesn't justify the conservancy's taking similar risks on its own land.

"I knew the founders of this organization on a first-name basis, and they would be turning over in their graves," said Huey Johnson, a Northern California environmentalist who was the Nature Conservancy's first Western region manager, 40 years ago. "It would take just one dumb move to destroy the integrity accumulated over 50 years by this organization."

"There are millions of acres being logged already by timber companies, millions of acres being grazed by private cattle ranches. Why does the Nature Conservancy have to become a timber baron?" asked Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has the same mission as the conservancy, but uses lawsuits and other adversarial tactics.

Conservancy officials and supporters said they provide a valuable example by demonstrating on their own lands that conservation and commerce can go hand in hand.

In New England, as paper companies have sold off whole forests in recent years, the conservancy has participated in deals on nearly a million acres of Maine and New Hampshire woods, McCormick said. Though some small pieces will be preserved, most of the land will continue to be logged. The forests will be thinned rather than shorn of trees, using "sustainable" forestry practices.

That strategy is far different from those of other environmental groups in the region, which have pushed for the creation of a national park.

But the idea of a park, with a loss of forestry jobs and restrictions on motorized recreation, is not popular with many residents. That includes workers at paper factories, hunters and snowmobilers who have ranged freely on the privately owned backwoods for centuries. Under the conservancy's stewardship, those traditions will continue.

In the Southwest, where conservancy staff members said encroaching subdivisions represent the single greatest environmental threat, the group now controls 2.1 million acres of livestock range, including ranches it has bought and interests in other lands. The conservancy has even funded a business venture called Conservation Beef to market hormone-free steaks described on the venture's Internet site as "rapturously tender, undeniably charismatic" and "like the free-range beef our grandparents grew up on."

"Your purchase of Conservation Beef is worth feeling good about. You're becoming a partner in helping us protect the Great American West," the Web site says.

Conservancy officials said they are moving cattle from place to place to protect stream beds and using other ecologically sound measures. They said that all ranchers they work with must follow rigorous plans for land stewardship.

Still, the partnerships have on occasion put the conservancy in the position of siding with ranchers against other environmentalists. In 1999, 18 Arizona environmental groups wrote a joint letter to the organization, asking the conservancy to stop siding with ranchers in negotiations to change federal and state environmental laws governing grazing and to stop perpetuating "myths about environmental protection and rancher(s) which are flatly untrue."

As for the conservancy's argument that by "working" its own land it is showing private landowners that business ventures can prosper under an environmental ethos, some of those landowners disagree.

"I would say it's the opposite, in fact. It would be our view that they would learn from us," said a spokesman for Exxon Mobil Corp., Bob Davis, noting that many of the environmentally sensitive industry practices used by the conservancy on its Texas City preserve had been developed by Exxon and Mobil researchers. But Davis said that the company supports sustainable development and that the conservancy's petroleum production on the preserve is "admirable."

Some ranchers and property-rights advocates said the nonprofit's deep pockets enable it to take steps that private, for-profit owners would find difficult--grazing fewer cattle per acre, for example, or keeping the animals out of stream beds during drought years.

The larger question is whether working landscapes actually provide protection for fragile terrain and wildlife.

"The question is not whether working landscapes are a good idea in the abstract, but whether it's a good or a bad idea for a particular species," said Michael Bean, director of the wildlife division of Environmental Defense. "I certainly am not prepared to say it's always a good idea."

But Bean said that the conservancy has an "outstanding track record" of preserving land and that, in specific cases, research has shown the approach could work.

"The Nature Conservancy fills an important niche. [It] accepts money from large corporations and big polluters who we could not take money from," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., head of the Waterkeeper movement, which works to clean up U.S. waters. "But it's possible to compromise your ideology, your reputation by making too risky choices."

Braun, the grouse expert, is more critical: "The Nature Conservancy is speaking out of both sides of its mouth: 'We can have this wildlife, and we can make money too.' ... Well, that's not true," he said. "They're exploiting the Attwater's prairie chicken to make money."

At the conservancy's Texas City Prairie Preserve, none of the more than $2 million set aside to help in the bird's recovery had been spent as of this spring. Conservancy officials and others said the money will be vital to fund captive breeding programs; to try to persuade a host of other wary private landowners to set aside additional habitat for the birds; and to reseed prairie grasses.

The homely bird once numbered about a million, its habitat stretching across the Texas and Louisiana coastal prairies. In pioneer days, it was a familiar figure, strutting across dusty farmyards and oil fields, the males flapping and "booming" loudly during the spring mating season.

They are a Southern cousin of another bird greatly reduced in number--the prairie chickens of the Midwestern prairies.

Like them, the Attwater's has been pushed almost out of existence by over-hunting, overgrazing, farming, roads and other development.

"Their habitat is now Houston, NASA and Galveston," said Mark Klym, a biologist who runs a fund-raising effort--"Adopt-A-Prairie-Chicken"--for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

The prairie chickens aren't the only ones crowded onto this remnant coastal grassland.

Dozens of bird species are visible on a given day--many of them raptors that could wipe out the tenuous Attwater's population for breakfast.

As for the drilling and grazing on the preserve, conservancy officials insisted that rigorous protections are in place and that there is no evidence of harm from the commercial activities.

Surface pumping is confined to small areas, and drilling is limited to months when there is no mating and nesting.

Close to 50,000 nonnative Chinese tallow trees that threatened to choke out native grasses vital to the chicken's survival have been ripped out.

As for grazing, state fish and game biologists said the cattle help to create the clumpy patches of grassland that the bird needs, much as bison historically did.

But even those who think that the conservancy is making valiant efforts to preserve the bird have misgivings.

Staff members at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Houston branch of the Audubon Society and area federal regulators said there always will be a risk, however small, of a major pipeline blowout, a bad spill or even the gradual sinking of the bird's mating ground as natural gas is sucked out from underneath.

And for all the intensive restoration work, without the regular release of captive-bred birds here and elsewhere, the species probably would already be gone, said Braun and others.

"The Attwater's prairie chicken doesn't really exist anymore," said Braun, noting that many of the introduced birds have been crossbred with Midwestern prairie chickens.

"They're not extinct, but that's in name only," Braun said. "All I can say is, it's a poor end for a fine American bird."

By Janet Wilson, Los Angeles Times

Posted by Richard
8/20/2002 08:30:53 AM | PermaLink

Monday, August 19, 2002

McDonald's in Japan: Australian Beef and the Realities of Mad Cow

The following piece of propaganda from Australia's Herald Sun celebrates Australian Beef as "Mad Cow free" -- the Australian beef industry, whose chief buyer has historically been the Japanese, took a major hit when BSE started turning up in Japanese burgers in 2000/2001.
Mad cow-free Australian beef is making a killing in Japan.

McDonald's Japan is running an Australian beef promotion in its restaurants and has cut the price of a hamburger to 59 yen (less than $1). Queensland Primary Industry Minister Henry Palaszczuk said the company reported a record 30.1 million customers last week, with sales soaring 15 per cent.

He said McDonald's was promoting its hamburgers as being made with 100 per cent clean Australian beef with no additives.
However, the reality of the Australian situation is much different, as this Tasmanian article from June demonstrates:
Experts could not say mad cow disease was not in Australia, because some substances derived from cattle were contained in products such as lipstick and gelatin, a new foundation has warned.

The Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Foundation, Australasia, said bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) were the best known forms of the disease, which had no known cure or treatment. The diseases hurt the central nervous system and destroy parts of the brain with a buildup of abnormal proteins called prions.

They mostly affect people aged in their 20s and have also been found in cows, farmed mink, deer and elk, cats and zoo animals.

"We cannot say that these diseases are not in Australia," TSE Foundation inaugural chairman Peter Higgins said.

"There are over 4000 products that have some form of bovine origin in them, everything from lipstick to gelatin. "The general public is simply not aware of the situation."

The TSE Foundation will be established in June as a bridge between the scientific community and the public to help with the flow of consumer information.

Dr Higgins said Australia was one of very few countries around the world that had been recognised as having the lowest risk of BSE.

However, this had been the position of other countries in the past, before they found BSE present, he said.

In January, Australian agricultural experts downplayed fears that mad cow disease could jump to sheep and then humans, following the publication of research in the UK. British scientists called for action to protect UK consumers after new research suggested mad cow disease could spread to sheep. But experts from Australia's federal agriculture department said the British research was still at a very preliminary stage.
Hence, the reality is that despite "soaring sales up 15%" the Australian beef industry remains mired in depression with sales far below pre-mad cow figures.

So, the facts for the Japanese remain that their beef market is highly suspect not only because of the highly publicized cases of corporate greed and misinformation, but because its main supplier is not necessarily as "clean" as it would like to declare itself.

Of course, as I had written about previously, America is using the opportunity to woo Japan into purchasing "clean" American cattle. But with mad deer competing with the west nile virus to see which can be the more catastrophic outbreak of disease, there is hardly any reason to believe that american cattle practices meet the humane and safe standards necessary to avoid the promotion of mad cow.

So, with no decent options available -- for instance, another German heffer was just found to be infected -- this means that the Japanese may move away from their present McDonald's meat-based diet, no? Isn't this tragedy for livestock ultimately a win for all?

Sadly, unless Japanese consumers take a more courageous role in challenging the business practices there -- something the very force of tradition asks them culturally not to do -- there is little reason to expect either that Japan will end its love affair with Mickey-dees or that McDonald's will offer more sustainable, humane, and healthy fare. [BTW, McDonald's claims that 80% of its beef is Australian, not 100%.]

Further, with the Japanese government campaigning strongly for the re-introduction of whale into the Japanese diet, one wonders if the nation's answer to their growing problem isn't to trade the slaughter of one species for another? When the politics of mad cow meet the politics of attempting to save the great whales a new complex environmental problem has been created that threatens to divide even the most pragmatic members of the activist community down the middle. If we could give Japan cows for whales, would we do it?

Posted by Richard
8/19/2002 01:13:40 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, August 18, 2002

We're Losing the Eco-war: An Interview with Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown

With the world conference on sustainable development starting next week in Johannesburg, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed Lester Brown, director of Earth Policy Institute, regarding ideas about solutions to the increasingly complicated problems enveloping the Earth's environment.

Yomiuri Shimbun: How do you evaluate the outcome of the Earth Summit?

Lester Brown: It was the sort of conference where everyone in the environmental movement, at least all the key people, and heads of state thought they had to be there, because it was an important event. But, a lot of the things that were talked about didn't materialize. A lot of countries, a lot of governments--especially local governments--have done their own "Agenda 21" sort of activities. But, many countries have not done that much. The United States, which is the most environmentally as well as economically influential country in the world, didn't really accomplish very much.

Now, that's one way of looking at it. Another way is to say that for big issues like climate change, although we haven't made much progress in reducing CO2 emissions, there are new things happening that are not only encouraging, but exciting.

Three years ago, the German government began to restructure its tax system, reducing income taxes and offsetting that with a rise in energy taxes. And they have reduced the use of fossil fuels as a result.

There have been some gains in recycling. Last year, 58 percent of the steel produced in this country was from scrap. In Germany, 72 percent of the paper produced last year was from recycled fiber. Solar cells are expanding very rapidly. Japan is a leader in this area.

There was not much discussion of wind power in Rio. And yet, today, wind power has become an important new source of energy and is growing. Last year, it grew by 37 percent worldwide, and here in the United States is grew by more than 60 percent. The cost of wind-generated electricity has come down as the result of advances in wind turbine design. The wind industry had, basically, borrowed technology from the aerospace industry to improve the design of wind turbines.

Next year, in 2003, cars powered with fuel cells are expected to be in the market.

But, the gap between what we need to be doing and what we are doing is getting wider. We're making some progress, but the problems are growing faster than the progress. We're wining a battle here and we're winning a battle there, but we're losing the war.

U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly will not attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

I think that's a mistake and it's an indication of how out of sync this administration is with the rest of the world. The United States has, I think, unfortunately, adopted a sort of go-it-alone philosophy, partly because we are, in military terms, the only superpower left. But, I think it's a great mistake and I think we should be using our military and economically dominant position in the world to build a world for future generations, to build an economy that can sustain economic progress.

When we think about the trends that we're setting in motion--global warming, rising temperatures, record heat waves, ice melt, rising sea levels--what kind of a world are we leaving our children and our grandchildren? What will they think of us?

What do you think the United States' role will be?

I think it will be very difficult to build an eco-economy in the world if the United States does not play an active role.

My sense is that public opinion is going to drive the White House to do something before long. Polls show that 70 percent of the people now think we should be moving ahead on doing something about global warming.

I don't think they have yet realized how badly it reflects on the White House when you have state governments and you have city governments and you have the governor of California signing legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

I don't think we can continue for much longer with the White House being so out of sync with the rest of the world and with the rest of the country.

(In addition to offering financial aid to developing countries,) we should lead by example and we should be doing the kinds of things that are needed to build an eco-economy.

What do you think of the U.S. mass-production, mass-consumption society? It seems very hard to change it.

It's hard to change, in a sense. We've become a consumer society, but that can change.

Five years ago, the tobacco lobby was very strong, and whenever there were congressional bearings, it would hire health experts to testify that there was no proof of a link between cigarette smoking and health. And then, three years ago, the tobacco industry "caved" and they agreed to pay a state government 251 billion dollars to cover the cost of treating past smoking-related illnesses. We reached a point where no elected politician in Washington wanted to be seen in public with the CEO (chief executive officer) of a tobacco company. The Tobacco Institute had 40 consultants--legal consultants, medical consultants--and some of the highest-paid lobbyists in the country. That organization does not exist any more. The same thing will happen with oil companies. When it becomes clear to you and me and everyone else that the climate is changing, they will lose their credibility and, with it, they will lose their political clout.

Environmental issues are more difficult to deal with than health issues.

For example, China is faced with enormous pressure on the land, now (it has) almost 1.3 billion people. They have overplowing, overgrazing, overcutting of trees, overpumping of aquifers and all these deficits are beginning to converge to create a huge dust bowl in China, on a scale the world has never seen before. What we're looking at in China is the potential of a massive ecological meltdown. And China is going to have to come into the world market for massive imports of grain in the not-too-distant future. When it does, it's going to affect everybody.

In "Eco-Economy," I quote the Norwegian, Gristen Dahle, who says, "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."

What do you expect from WSSD?

It's not the people on the fertile, well-watered, agricultural plains--it's the people on the marginal lands, in the arid regions or the mountains, who are suffering the most from environmental degradation. I think you have to do (environmental protection and development) together because, if we can't protect the environment, there won't be any development.

Johannesburg is an important event, not just because of the environment and development, but also because it will be the first time that the world's countries have come together since Sept. 11.

It also represents an opportunity for governments to set in motion some things that they didn't really succeed in doing in Rio. Therefore, if in the negotiations in Johannesburg we do not come up with some major advances, it will be a major psychological setback for the world.

By Makiko Tatebayashi, Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

Posted by Richard
8/18/2002 09:20:53 AM | PermaLink

'Huge Toxic Cloud' Threatens Southern Asia

The "Asian Brown Cloud," a 2-mile-thick blanket of pollution over southern Asia, may be causing the premature deaths of a half-million people in India each year, deadly flooding in some areas and drought in others, according to the biggest-ever scientific study of the phenomenon.

The grimy cocktail of ash, soot, acids and other damaging airborne particles is as much the result of low-tech polluters like wood- and dung-burning stoves, cooking fires and forest clearing as it is of dirty industries, the U.N.-sponsored study found.

"When you think about air pollution, many people think of industry and fossil fuels as the only causes," report co-author Paul Crutzen, a scientist at the Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, told a news conference in London.

Often ignored, he said, was "biomass burning," including forest fires and the burning of vegetation to clear land or to warm the homes of poor people.

More than 200 scientists contributed to the study, overseen by the U.N. Environment Program in preparation for the World Summit on sustainable Development opening Aug. 26 in Johannesburg, South Africa. They used data from ships, planes and satellites to study Asia's haze from 1995 to 2000.

The scientists say more research is needed but that some trends are clear. Respiratory illness appears to be increasing along with the pollution in densely populated South Asia, with one study suggesting the 500,000 premature deaths annually in India.

The dense cloud of pollution - also caused by auto emissions, factories and waste incineration - cuts the amount of sunlight reaching the ground and the oceans by 10 to 15 percent, cooling the land and water while heating the atmosphere.

That phenomenon appears to have altered the region's monsoon rains - increasing rainfall and flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal and northeastern India, while cutting back needed seasonal precipitation in Pakistan and northwestern India.

Floods, drought, sunlight reduction and acid rain all can hurt agricultural yields, with the report indicating the pollution may be cutting India's winter rice harvest by as much as 10 percent.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., one of the report's authors, said the extent of the sunlight loss was "a major surprise."

Scientists say it's too early to draw definite conclusions about the impact of the cloud, and of similar hazes over East Asia, South America and Africa.

"We need much more basic scientific data to be able to establish what are the consequences for human health and the environment," said co-author Crutzen, co-winner of the 1995 Nobel chemistry prize for his work on the ozone layer.

But they warn the impact could be global since prevailing winds push pollution clouds halfway round the world in just a week's time.

For many years, scientists believed only lighter greenhouse gases - such as carbon dioxide that is produced from burning fossil fuels such as gasoline and oil - were global in reach and effect.

They now say microscopic, suspended particles of pollutants - generically called aerosols by atmospheric scientists - also travel the globe.

It's unclear what the haze's relationship is to global warming, which most scientists believe is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases that trap the Earth's heat. The pollution cloud appears to cool the area below by blocking sunlight.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said scientists and policy-makers "should avoid making premature final assessments," but should start trying to cut pollution by introducing more efficient heating stoves in developing countries and turning to solar power and other clean sources of energy.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth said "urgent action is desperately needed to tackle the causes behind this huge toxic cloud."

"Actions must include phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with clean, green, renewable energy, and tough laws to protect the world's forests," said the group's climate coordinator, Kate Hampton.

Ramanathan said the surprises found by the study will drive scientists to keep studying human impact on the environment.

"We've been looking at environmental issues for the last several decades, yet the Asian haze came as a major surprise to us," he said.

"We don't know how many more surprises we will find."

Posted by Richard
8/18/2002 08:47:47 AM | PermaLink